Kristina Nunez, PsyD
Gaslighting vs invalidation: A recent influx of narcissists or poor communicators?
Conflicts with others are typically uncomfortable experiences for most people. Frequently having disagreements with another person is stressful and often can be a hurtful experience, especially when it is with a partner you love, a friend you care about, or a colleague you respect.
Most people like to feel connected and aligned with the people in their lives, so they avoid experiencing conflicts or try to minimize them. People also typically prefer to feel heard and validated by the people around them. Unfortunately, due to a variety of factors, conflicts are going to happen and there will be conflicts where we are left feeling unheard, disrespected, and angered.
When you notice another person disagreeing with you, or experiencing any of the emotions previously mentioned, take a pause, before you throw out the word gaslighting. Ask yourself this question, Are you being gaslighted or invalidated? Using the term gaslighted, is a serious term and should be used with caution.
Gaslighting is a form of psychological abuse that involves manipulation over an extended period in efforts to control an individual. The psychological abuse causes the victim to question their own realities, thoughts and feelings and leads them to doubt themselves. Overtime, these interactions ultimately lead the victim to develop a low self-esteem and a poor sense of self-confidence.
The term has become a buzz word across social media platforms within the last few years but seems to be even more frequently used than before. It is often being used as a synonym to describe feeling invalidated by another person when having a disagreement or conflict. If we stop to think about the most recent disagreement we had with another person, what comes to mind?
In most cases what usually is happening, to describe it in its simplest form, are two people having their own unique experiences trying to be validated by the other person. It’s very common and inevitable to have disagreements with others. It is so common that it happens in all relationships and can look different depending on the people involved.
When we have a conflict or a disagreement, it is most likely because two individuals are having their own experiences, emotions, needs and communication styles that aren’t aligning. Some dynamics have a healthy way of communicating, while others have periods where communication is ineffective, therefore, stimulating conflicts to arise.
When we think about those disagreements, what comes up for you? What were you feeling in the moment? What were those feelings communicating to you? What are your feelings telling you need?
Often in disagreements, there are two people wanting to be understood. When we don’t feel like our experiences are being seen or respected because the other individual is trying to be heard as well, two people will ultimately leave the conversation feeling invalidated. Sometimes, two people are trying to prove to one another that their perspective or experience is “right” and the other person is “wrong”. Often times, no one is either right or wrong and instead both people are having their own experience that is different than the other person.
Depending on the dynamic and the conflict two people are facing, it is very common to be in defense mode when we feel invalidated. Some people may blame others for “making” them feel certain emotions, which isn’t the most effective way to communicate how we feel.
The reality is people cannot make anyone feel emotions. Emotions are our own and no one is capable of “making” us feel a certain way. People may engage in certain behaviors that trigger certain feelings to come up. This is why it is crucial to be curious and reflect upon your own emotional experiences. Emotions, no matter how uncomfortable they may feel, give us insight into who we are and what we are needing.
Reflecting on our emotional experiences, understanding the needs associated to them and communicating them to the other person we are having a conflict with, are steps towards working through the conflict at hand. Realistically, there is no certainty in knowing how the other person will respond to your emotions and needs. What is important is that you take the time to understand yourself and communicate your needs. How someone else responds to you reflects who they are, and the interpersonal skill set they obtain.
There are many instances where individuals are experiencing emotional abuse, such as gaslighting, and those experiences should be taken seriously. It may be beneficial for those individuals to reach out to someone they trust or a professional to obtain support. For the instances when people are being invalidated, it is important to reflect and express your emotional needs before using the term gaslighting.
Often, the term for emotional abuse is being used to communicate the hurt that someone may feel when their experiences aren’t taken seriously. The long-term consequences of labeling someone else’s behavior as emotional abuse can be harmful for any dynamic and may result in cycles of ineffective communicating. One way to stop these harmful cycles is to take responsibility of our own emotional experiences.
Taking responsibility for our own experiences will give you the insight and confidence to show up for yourself authentically and work towards developing a more effective way of communicating. Sitting with our emotions isn’t always easy, however, it is possible with the right tools and openness to learning how to enhance your level of self-awareness. Enhancing awareness to what your own emotions are trying to communicate to you is the first step towards understanding your own needs. Having this insight is crucial towards improving your communication and conflict resolution skills.